[Advaita-l] ***UNCHECKED*** The Vedantic significance of '1000 heads, eyes, etc.' of Brahman

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Tue Jan 20 22:58:32 CST 2015

In the Veda (purusha and narayana sukta) and the BG, and Lalitha
sahasranama, we have descriptions of the Supreme Being as possessed of
innumerable eyes, heads, hands, feet, etc.  The significance of such
depictions is brought out by Shankara while commenting on the BG 13.14

English translation by Swami Gambhirananda (on Sri Sankaracharya's Sanskrit

Tat, That-the Knowable; sarvatah-pani-padam, which has hands and feet
everywhere-.The existence of the Knower of the field is revealed through th
adjuncts in the form of the organs of all creatures. And the Knower of the
field is spoken of as such because of the limiting adjuncts of the field.
The field, too, is diversely differentiated as hands, feet, etc. All
diversity in the Knower of the field, caused by the differences in the
adjunct-the field-, is certainly unreal. Hence, by denying it, the nature
of the Knowable has been stated, in, 'That is called neither being nor
non-being.' Although the unreal form is caused by the limiting adjuncts,
still, for the comprehension of Its existence it is said, '(It) has hands
and feet everywhere, etc., by assuming this as a quality of the Knowable. Thus,
as is well known, there is saying of the people versed in tradition, 'The
Transcendental is described with the help of superimposition and its
refutation'. (adhyaropa - apavada) Everywhere the hands, feet, etc., which
are perceived as limbs of all bodies, perform, their duties due to the
presence of the power of the Knowable (Brahman). Thus the grounds for the
inference of the existence of the Knowable are metaphorically spoken of as
belonging to the Knowable. The others have to be explained similarly.That
Knowable has hands and feet everywhere. That which has eyes, heads, and
mouths everywhere is sarvatoksi-siro-mukham. That which has ears
every-where is sarvatah-srutimat: sruti means the organs of hearing; that
which has it is sruti-mat. Tisthati, It exists, remains established; loke,
in the multititude of creatures; avrtya, by pervading; sarvam, them
all.With this purpose is view, that as a result of the superimposition of
the organs like hands, feet, etc., which are adjuncts, *there may not be
the misconception that the Knowable is possessed of them (adjuncts), the
(next) verse is *begun:


The above is the purpose behind depicting Brahman as possessed of
innumerable eyes, heads, etc.  One aught not to conclude that Brahman
indeed has all these eyes, heads, etc.  In other words, since the Vedantic
Brahman is Nirguna, nirākāra,  one could easily conclude that it is
non-existent.  In order to ward off such a situation, the Vedanta presents
Brahman as the one possessed of all these limbs.  Since we see the organs
we can infer the samashti, collective, cosmic, possessor of these organs.
That 'possessor' once admitted to be 'existing' ( and not non-existent), it
would be easy for the Vedanta to deny those possessions and help the
aspirant realize the entity free of all such superimposed possessions.
That is the adhyaropa apavada method of Advaita.

The Purusha, Narayana suktas have this as the purpose.


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